Homeowner cries foul over city’s frontage rates for irregular lots

A Salmon Arm man maintains he’s being penalized tax-wise for having an odd-shaped lot.

A Salmon Arm man maintains he’s being penalized tax-wise for having an odd-shaped lot.

John Gerbitz says he built his 17th Street SE residence two years ago and was told at that time that his frontage taxes would be based on his road frontage. This year he was surprised to find his water and sewer rate had gone up $512. After communicating with city staff, he learned this was due to an adjustment in the formula used to determine the frontage tax.

“I have a pan-handled shape lot… So, what the district told me is that for some reason I didn’t qualify for the frontage anymore, and what they figured is to go around the perimeter of my lot and take those measurements and divide it by four, which would make it a square, which essentially doesn’t work for a six-sided lot,” Gerbitz explained in a recent presentation to council. “Right now, I have a 15,000-square-foot lot, but with these calculations, it’s a 29,000- square-foot lot… so this calculation they’re using doesn’t work for this lot.”

In an email to Gerbitz, city financial services manager Betty Hiebert explains the “huge increase in frontage was due to a miscalculation in the past, which was discovered upon a review of your property.”

City corporate service director Monica Dalziel elaborated on this at council, explaining Gerbitz was originally charged a frontage tax for 77 feet when it should have been 161.

“I think this subdivision went in in 1997,” said Dalziel. “Therefore, the frontage has been erroneously applied since that time. Since he just built his house, I think it’s the building permit that triggered the review. That’s what brought it to the attention of the utilities staff.”

Gerbitz said he has learned there are other lots in the city that are also now under review. He maintained that the formula being used for irregular-shaped lots is unfair.

“The simplest way would be to find the square footage for a lot and find the square root of that, and that would be the true fair way to do it. Right now I’m getting charged for 161 square feet and I believe my lot is 121… So I’m wondering if it’s worth considering re-evaluating their formula to come up with a fair deal for six-sided- shape lots like mine?” said Gerbitz.

Mayor Nancy Cooper suggested this could be reviewed at budget time, but added it would be a huge undertaking.

This was quickly confirmed by Dalziel, who estimated there are upwards of 2,000 plans that would have to be reviewed. Coun. Alan Harrison later explained that the frontage tax represents a balance of cost.

“No matter how you shuffle the deck, we have to collect a certain amount of money,” said Harrison. “So, if council was to change for 2,500 irregular lots – of which mine is one – and use some kind of different formula, the offset of charging those less would be charging the regular-shaped lots more.”